Innovative fish fund aids next generation of harvesters

Program includes incentives to contribute to sustainable fisheries

An innovative fisheries loan program a decade in the making has begun providing financial aid for young harvesters and community-based vessel owners through a unique plan that includes incentives to participate in programs that contribute to sustainable fisheries.

The Local Fish Fund loan structure was developed in consultation with commercial fishermen in Alaska, to boost local ownership of halibut and sablefish quota.

The fund is open now, said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and a founding member of the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, a Sitka-based nonprofit that protects and promotes fishing and fisheries.

“We will make loans to qualified borrowers until all available funds are committed,” said Behnken, who has been working for 10 years to make the fund a reality. “If all goes well for the next two years, we hope to secure additional capital and keep building both the Trust and Alaska quota share ownership.”

While the loan program is open to all Alaskans, the initial focus will be on Southeast Alaska.

The Local Fish Fund is a collaborative effort led by the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, with support from The Nature Conservancy, Craft3, Rasmuson Foundation and Catch Together.

Craft3 is a community development financial institution the provides loans to Pacific Northwest Communities. Catch Together is a project of Trust for Conservation Innovation, a nonprofit that supports innovative conservation endeavors.

“The cost and risk involved in accessing Alaska’s quota share fisheries are comparable to purchasing a hotel as a first step in home ownerships,” Behnken said. “As a result, the number of young rural residents entering the fisheries has dropped over the past 15 years. Local Fish Fund aims to change that trend by lowering barriers to entry while engaging the next generation of community-based fishermen in resource conservation and management.”

What’s different about this fund is the way loans are being structured.

Traditional commercial fisheries loans are built around fixed payments, which can be a problem for entry-level commercial harvesters because the allowable catch and prices paid for fish may vary dramatically from year to year. The Local Fish fund is using a “revenue participation” approach in which loan repayments are based on fish landings rather than a fixed loan repayment structure. The loans are offered at competitive interest rates and reduced down payment options which allow fishermen to build sufficient equity to eventually access conventional loans.

There are also incentives for those seeking loans to participate in a flexible set of conservation programs that contribute to sustainable fisheries management by helping to collect scientific data, engaging in policy and management decision-making, and working on conservation education and outreach.

“Alaska has some of the most sustainably managed fisheries in the world,” said Christine Woll, the Southeast Alaska program director for The Nature Conservancy. “This is due in large part to Alaskans having an active voice in how our fisheries are managed. Encouraging local participation in our commercial fisheries helps foster a long-standing Alaska tradition of community-based stewardship of our natural resources.”

“We know how important quota ownership is to fishing communities in Southeast Alaska, and we are pleased to be a financing partner to the Local Fish Fund and its program to keep quota in the hands of local fishermen” said Kelly Wachowicz, managing partner of Catch Together.

Collaborating with Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust and The Nature Conservancy to launch the fund “makes perfect sense to Craft3,” said Adam Zimmerman, the entity’s president and chief operating officer. “This effort expands on our decades-long commitment to sustainable fisheries, conservation, and community development.”

And Chris Perez, senior program officer for the Rasmuson Foundation, praised the fund for relying on creative thinking, and strong local and national partners “to open up economic opportunities in one of Alaska’s most valued industries, fishing.”